The First Marxist Work Week — an ‘Argentine Riddle’ | Dr. Ian Gardner

When is a meeting of Marxist intellectuals not just a meeting of Marxist intellectuals?

Atthe end of my recent Medium article I made reference to the ‘First Marxist Work Week’ (Erste Marxistische Arbeitswoche – or EMA) – an event that has been given considerable prominence in the official history of the Institute for Social Research (the ‘Institute’ or ‘Frankfurt School’) and in the subsequent commentary on the phenomenon of ‘cultural Marxism’.

The ‘EMA’ was a week long conference / study meeting of Marxist and Communist intellectuals held in Thuringia, Germany in the early 1920’s. Its attendees included Karl and Hedda Korsch, Georg Lukács, Richard and Christiane Sorge, Julian and Hede Gumperz, Eduard, Gertrud and Kurt Alexander, Karl August and Ruth Wittfogel, Konstantin Zetkin, Karl Schmückle; Bela Fogarasi, Margarete Lissauer, Boris Roninger, Fukumoto Kazuo and Friedrich Pollock together with Felix and Käthe Weil. 

The EMA was sponsored by Felix Weil, the son of an extremely wealthy businessman, Hermann Weil who had made his fortune exporting grain from Argentina to Europe. In addition to his fathers wealth, Felix acquired a considerable fortune by way of a million gold pesos from his mothers family following her death. This was used to support a number of ‘progressive’ or charitable projects including the Malik Verlag publishing house, the artwork of George Grosz and even an extended holiday for German Communist Party (KPD) founding member Ernst Meyer and his wife towards the end of his political career.

The EMA has attracted interest from ‘Frankfurt School’ scholars and commentators largely because, in his 1973 history of the Frankfurt School, The Dialectical Imagination, Martin Jay explained that it was at the EMA that Felix Weil conceived the idea of an Institute for Social Research (Jay 1973, 6). Subsequent researchers and commentators who have sought to understand the Institute’s work have often started with its purported origin at the EMA and have dissected the biographies its attendees as a means of contextualizing some of its output.

Felix Weil was Martin Jay’s main source in The Dialectical Imagination account of the EMA. Jay can therefore be forgiven for taking Weil at his word, as the EMA sponsor and principal benefactor of the Institute also repeated this account to others (See Yagi 2001) and documented it in his unpublished memoir.

“I hit upon the idea to provide Marxist research with an academic home in the early year of 1922 at the Erste Marxistische Arbeitswoche (First Marxist Working Week) in Ilmenau, Thüringen. Karl Korsch and I invited the participants, and I paid the charges”.

So where is the mystery ?

Well the mystery is one of timing as the account offered by Weil might not actually be consistent with the historical record.

Founding of the Institute — the conventional explanation

InJay’s 1973 account of the founding of the Institute, according to Weil, the EMA took place in the summer of 1922 (Jay 1973, 5). This is consistent with the account given by Weil in his 1973 Frankfurt lecture attended by Professor Kiichiro Yagi and with the content of his unpublished memoir. According to this timeline, Weil was inspired by events at the EMA and conceived the idea of an Institute at the conference.

Documentary evidence confirms that Weil approached Frankfurt University and the Ministry of Culture in August 1922 to seek their approval to establish the Institute as an adjunct to the University in Frankfurt. In November 1922 the legal body overseeing Weil’s financial endowment to establish the Institute was created and the Institute was formally established in early February 1923.

All good? Well not quite…

Embedded in Jay’s 1973 account is a small but important caveat to the above. In the notes accompanying the first chapter is a reference to the EMA being held not in 1922 but in 1923.

“Another participant at the conference, Karl August Wittfogel, has disagreed with Weil’s date, saying that the EMA took place after Witsuntide in 1923. Weil discounts this saying that the Institut was already in operation by that date.” 

Jay 1973, 304 (Note 4)

So 1922 or 1923 — what does it matter? Actually quite a lot.

If the EMA was held in 1922 then Weil’s account of his conception of the Institute at the EMA could fit with the documentary record. If the EMA was in 1923 then it doesn’t for several reasons..

Firstly, unless Weil was a time traveler, it would have been rather difficult to hit upon the idea of creating an Institute after it had already been established. The documentary record indicates that the Institute was established on 3rd February 1923 and according to Wittfogel the date for the EMA was after Witsuntide which was 20/21 May in 1923. By this time the Institute was up and running and already temporarily based at the Senckenberg Museum of Natural Science in Frankfurt (Jay 1996,10).

Secondly, if the idea of the Institute came to Weil at the EMA in May 1922 then Kurt Gerlach, the person initially chosen to be the first Director of the Institute would have been alive, able to attend the EMA and subsequently able to write the accompanying memorandum (or Denkshrift) to support Weil’s application to the University and Ministry of Culture. In his memoir Weil said that Gerlach was present at the EMA but as he died in October 1922 this would have been impossible if the EMA was in 1923 (unless Weil meant Gerlach was there in spirit!).

Thirdly if the EMA took place in 1922 how could Fukumoto Kazuo attend ? Professor Kiichiro Yagi has established that on 22 May 1922 Fukumoto was in London at Highgate Cemetery taking pictures of Marx’s grave and his diary does not record him immediately thereafter travelling to Germany to attend the EMA. Despite this, the group photograph above, taken at the EMA shows Fukomoto sitting in the front row..

So, a bit of an enigma. How could Felix Weil, sponsor of the EMA and principal benefactor of the Institute get the dates wrong?

Prof Michael Buckmiller has spent time investigating the apparent discrepancy and in 1988 provided compelling evidence of a 1923 date for the EMA. By 1994 when Rolf Wiggershaus published his history of the Frankfurt School in English, 1923 had become the accepted date and in 1996 when the second edition of The Dialectical Imagination appeared, Martin Jay accepted that Weil was incorrect in his reference to the EMA of 1922.

There are several unfortunate consequences of the above.

Firstly, as a result of relying on the first edition of The Dialectical Imagination, the incorrect date of the EMA and its role in the creation of the Institute was picked up by early commentators on ‘cultural Marxism’.

Research that was published by the LaRouche organisation in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s made specific reference to the 1922 EMA and its participants based on Weil’s account of how the Institute came into being. This account of the EMA is found in Michael Minnicino’s 1988 and 1992 articles; in the critique of the Frankfurt School by Ralph deToledano in 2006 and in other later commentaries which have drawn on both of the above sources.

These commentaries highlighted (amongst other things) the political biographies of those who attended the EMA. The biographies revealed significant ties to German and international Communist organisations and contrasted starkly with Martin Jay’s somewhat understated apolitical description of how the Institute was conceived at an ‘informal’ EMA ‘composed only of intellectuals’. This contrast prompted early researchers to speculate on the ‘real’ motive behind the Institute’s creation. As many of the attendees of the EMA had close links to either the KPD or the Communist International (Comintern), the core suspicion was that the Institute was linked to or created by the Comintern or the wider Soviet Intelligence apparatus. Although this idea was popularised by the LaRouche organisation, it was also something that government agencies and academics like Lewis Feuer had also suspected and previously written about. See my earlier Medium article for the former and Feuer (1980) and Feuer (1982) as examples of the latter.

Whether there is anything other than circumstantial evidence to back up these suspicions is something for another day. For now, it is sufficient to say that there was and is, some doubt about the conventional account of how events at the EMA led Felix Weil to establish the Institute for Social Research and it is reasonable (and not pandering to ‘conspiracy theory’) to look at alternative explanations for the Institute’s creation if the conventional one does not bear up well under scrutiny.

Secondly, in addition to the more speculative writing of commentators on ‘cultural Marxism’, the conventional account of an Institute founded at the EMA has also been adopted by mainstream academics. For example, in connection with Felix and Herman Weil’s penchant for funding progressive causes, Thomas Wheatland in his 2009 book The Frankfurt School in Exile suggests that

“One of their early ventures, which helped provide Weil and his friends with the idea of forming an institute for the study of Marxism in Germany,was the Erste Marxistische Arbeitswoche that was held in the summer of 1923 at Geraberg near the Thuringian Forest. The event was intended to build unity among the various theoretical positions that German-speaking Marxists had adopted in response to the situation in Germany, as well as in response to recent events in the Soviet Union.

Initially, Weil anticipated that the Erste Marxistische Arbeitswoche would be just the first of a series of gatherings for Marxist intellectuals and scholars in Germany. However, as the “Summer Academy” reached its conclusion, Weil felt convinced that a more permanent organization was necessary. At this point, Weil first began to consider the possibility of founding an institute for the purpose of addressing the kinds of questions and issues that the Geraberg group had been exploring. When Weil returned to Frankfurt from the Thuringian Forest, he kept in touch with many of the contacts that he had made there — particularly with those participants who lived in close proximity to Frankfurt.” (Wheatland 2009, 8–9)

To be fair to Wheatland, his source for the above was an article in Telos written by Paul Breines in 1972 but the account is largely the same as that reported by Jay and is based on correspondence between Felix Weil and Breines in 1971. (Jay 1973, 304 (Note 4)).

Although Professor Jay corrected the date for the EMA in his 1996 edition of The Dialectical Imagination the significance of this revised date has been lost. In the second edition Jay repeats his and Weil’s first edition explanation for the Institute’s conception

“..Weil’s idea of a more permanent institute, which he had conceived during the EMA, became increasingly clarified.” (Jay 1996, 6)

So the conventional ‘academic’ account still ties the founding of the Institute to the EMA — even though the timeline is obviously problematic. If the EMA was actually held in 1923 and the Institute had already been created this account simply cannot be correct.

A final consequence of seeing the EMA as linked to the founding of the Institute relates to the decision not to hold a second EMA — which was to form part of a‘series of summer conferences’ (Breines 1972,70). In Jay’s account, the ‘expectations of a Zweite Marxistische Arbeitwoche came to naught because a more ambitious alternative took its place’ (Jay 1973, 5). In his 2020 updated account Jay is more explicit when he writes

‘Although the meeting was apparently a success, a second week the following year did not ensue because of Weil’s founding of a more permanent institution’ (Jay 2020, 8).

So a second EMA was not held because of the Institute was created (which would presumably allow ongoing discussions to be held within a new institutional setting).

The problem with this element of the conventional account is that it is a partial one. Paul Breines 1972 article provides an additional perspective where it is reported that

‘..the “Summer Academy” did not survive its several gatherings of the first (1923) summer as the questions raised by Lukacs’ and Korsch’s books proved too explosive for such a format’ (Breines 1972, 70).

So nothing to do with the founding of the new Institute.. more a question of the controversial content of some of the EMA’s reading material.

As a consequence of these inconsistencies, valid questions arise concerning the EMA’s purpose and where a 1923 meeting actually featured in the early history of the Institute. Was the meeting simply a gathering of intellectuals only tangentially connected to the Institute and a discussion of abstract Marxist theory — as implied in the conventional account, or was it something else?

Another Contemporary Account of the Founding of the Institute

When Martin Jay was drafting the first edition of The Dialectical Imagination there was already a competing account of the circumstances in which the idea of the Institute was conceived. In Ernst Herhaus’s 1970 book Notizen während der Abschaffung des Denkens (Notes during the abolition of thinking) there is an interview with Friedrich Pollock whose recollections differ from those of Felix Weil. In the interview Pollock recounted that

“Und so wurde im Schlossgarten zu Kronberg von Horkheimer, Felix Weil und mir, das Institut fur Sozialforschung gegrundet zu nachst einmal gedanklich.” (“And so the Institute for Social Research was founded by Horkheimer, Felix Weil and myself in the Schlossgarten in Kronberg”). (Herhaus 1970, 42)

We can try to place a date on this event… it was some time after the fall of 1919 (possibly in November or December) when Horkheimer and Pollock met Felix Weil for the first time. As the documentary record indicates that Weil sought approval for the Institute from the University of Frankfurt in August 1922 it is likely that any meeting with Horkeimer and Pollock took place before that, possibly after Weil returned from Argentina in the fall of 1921.

Weil’s recollection of discussions with Horkheimer and Pollock are reported in John Abromheit’s 2011 book Max Horkheimer and the Foundations of the Frankfurt School (Abromheit 2011, 61). It was during these discussions that the name Institute for Researching Marxism was discounted as it would ‘incite too much resistance’..

“…the title of the Institute had to be clothed in Aesopian terms. Then Pollock recalled that an Institute for Social Research had been founded in Japan a few years before, with the new concept of ‘Social Research’ which could mean something different for everyone. Thus we decided to take over this concept for our own purposes.” 

Felix Weil Memoirs pp. 87–8 cited in Abromheit 2011, 61

So based on these historic recollections another timeline exists where Weil discussed details of the new Institute — including its name, with Pollock and Horkheimer in late 1921 or early 1922. Drawing on Pollock’s account, Abromheit suggests a date of 1922 (Abromheit 2011, 57) — in either case it was well before the EMA in 1923.

Unfortunately this alternative timeline does not lend support to the conventional account of the founding of the Institute. Despite this, in his most recent commentary on the Frankfurters, Splinters in Your Eye (Jay 2020) Martin Jay uncritically reports Pollocks’ account without revisiting Weil’s assertion that the idea of the Institute came to him at the EMA. This is unsatisfactory and a better explanation is needed — preferably one which accords with the documentary record.

An alternative account of the founding of the Institute and the purpose of the Erste Marxistiche Arbeitwoche

1918 and 1919 must have been heady years for the young Felix Weil.

The First World War had finally ended and for a moment it looked like there was a possibility of creating a new future for what what Brecht referred to as ‘a world in disorder.’ In Germany the Weimar Republic was declared on 9th November 1918 and Felix Weil was captivated by the revolutionary zeitgeist.

Weil’s interest in socialism had been stimulated through his participation in the Frankfurt Workers and Soldiers Council and its occupation of the Frankfurter Hof in November 1918. This gave young Felix first hand experience of what Lenin called ‘revolution in the streets when he along with others seized a machine gun depot at the Frankfurt Festival Hall. According to Detlev Claussen’s biography of Adorno (Claussen 2008, 75–6), this practical activism in turn facilitated his reading the Social Democratic Party’s 1891 Erfurt Programmewhich advocated that

“Only the transformation of the capitalist private ownership of the means of production — land and soil, pits and mines, raw materials, tools, machines, means of transportation — into social property and the transformation of the production of goods into socialist production carried on by and for society can cause the large enterprise and the constantly growing productivity of social labor to change for the hitherto exploited classes from a source of misery and oppression into a source of the greatest welfare and universal, harmonious perfection.

This social transformation amounts to the emancipation not only of the proletariat, but of the entire human race..”

As Claussen observes, this idea… ‘socializiation’ would become the topic of Weil’s Doctoral Thesis and his chief interest in subsequent years.

After the initial unrest Weil resumed his studies at the University of Frankfurt where fellow students Leo Lowenthal, Franz Neumann and Ernst Fränkel had formed a socialist student group. On his return, Weil became skeptical that his yearning for socialist theory could be met in Frankfurt so he elected to transfer to the University of Tübingen for a semester to be taught Political Economy by Robert Wilbrandt . Wilbrandt was ‘one of the very few professors in Germany at the time with whom it was possible to study socialism in any form’ (Abromheit 2011, 56). He was also a member of the First Socialization Commission directed by Karl Kautsky.

Weil left Frankfurt for Tübingen in February 1919 and by March he, along with Karl Schmukle and Heinrich Süßkind, (who in 1921 became the editor-in-chief of the Rote Fahne) founded the his own socialist student group, the Free Union of Socialist Students.

In April, Weil met Karl Korsch at the first meeting of the German Socialist Students’ group in Jena and the talk of the day likely included the creation of the Hungarian Soviet Republic that March.

Over the course of the next few months Weil’s political activism also brought him into contact with Clara Zetkin, who he visited in Stuttgart on a regular basis. Zetkin was co-founder of the Spartacus League, Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD) and a leading member of the KPD from its inception at the end of 1918/early 1919.

In his unpublished memoirs Weil describes this part of his political journey in the following terms:

“In Frankfurt I was still close to the Social Democratic Party . But studying Marx in greater depth in Tübingen and the discussions I had with Clara Zetkin radicalized me.” 

Abromheit 2011, 56

Weil’s association with Zetkin brought him into direct contact with other influential Communists including Karl Radek (Claussen 2008,76) and Willi Munzenberg (Rohr 2014, iv). It is likely that on these visits to see Clara Zetkin in Stuttgart, Weil first met Clara’s youngest son, Konstantin – the former lover of Rosa Luxembourg.

Unfortunately for Weil his political activism not only brought him into contact with leading Communists, it also brought him into conflict with the authorities. In the summer of 1919 he was arrested in along with fourteen other students for harassing a Tübingen professor. Protests led by Clara Zetkin secured his release, however the province of Württemberg expelled Weil in October 2019 prematurely ending his stay at the University.

Weil returned to Frankfurt and as mentioned earlier, in November / December 1919 he was introduced to Friedrich Pollock and Max Horkheimer ….by Konstantin Zetkin.

So by the latter part of 1919 Weil had been in personal contact with Clara Zetkin, Karl Radek, Willi Munzenberg, Karl Korsch, Karl Schmukle, Konstantin Zetkin, Heinrich Süßkind, Leo Lowenthal, Franz Neumann, Max Horkheimer and Friedrich Pollock.

It was during this exciting period, and not at the EMA, that according to Max Horkheimer Weil conceived the idea of the Institute. In his 1944 report on the first ten years of the Institute in the USA — Ten Years on Mornigside Heights Horkheimer wrote

“The Institut fur Sozialforschung was conceived in the fall of 1919 by Felix J Weil, then a young scholar at the University of Frankfurt.”

In April 1945 Horkheimer issued the report — with the above account, to the President of Columbia University where the Institute had been based since 1934. Although Weil and the Institute had used Aesopian language to cloak their activities in the past, it seems unlikely that Horkheimer would have deliberately lied about the creation of Weil’s brainchild to the President of a University that was so generously hosting the Institute’s activities.

1920 was to be another interesting year for Felix Weil. By March the German revolution had come to an end and some measure of normality was starting to return to German society. ‘Revolution in the streets’ was being replaced with support for the newly formed German Communist Party in workplaces and trade unions. In April, Weil completed his Doctoral Thesis on ‘Socialization’.

In August the second World Congress of the Comitern met in Petrograd and representatives from the USPD attended. Delegates and the party leaders were divided on the question of whether to accept Lenin’s 21 Conditions — a prerequisite to joining the Comintern and a lively debate ensued. After the Congress, the USPD was still undecided on membership of the Comintern so in October a conference was held in Halle to resolve the impasse. Gregory Zinoviev, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Comintern attended the Conference and his speech carried the day…resulting in left leaning members of the USPD leaving the party and merging with the German Communist Party.

Around this time — October 2020, Weil met Zinoviev and was subsequently recruited by him to act as an agent of the Comintern in Argentina. In late 1920/early 1921, following his marriage and accompanied by his new wife Kathe, Weil returned to Argentinia for a year during which time he provided important intelligence to Zinoviev on the status of the labour movement and on the political situation generally. (Kheiferts & Kheiferts 2009, 136; Camarero 2010, 61)

It is against the above background that we should perhaps consider the founding of the Institute — something which Rosa Meyer-Lavine (KPD Leader Ernst Meyer’s widow) recalled was

“ be similar to the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow, equipped with a staff of professors and students, with libraries and archives and one day to present it to a German Socialist Republic.” 

Wiggershaus 1994, 24

Felix Weil wanted to create an Institute for the study and advancement of Marxism as a scientific method to understand and ultimately, in his view, improve society. He had participated in practical revolutionary activity, had studied Marxism and had developed connections with leading Marxist theoreticians in Germany and abroad. With the benefit of his mothers bequest and his fathers wealth, he sought to emulate the Marx Engels Institute in Moscow but chose a more covert approach to develop an Institute in Germany as there would be too much resistance to an organisation with an overtly Marxist ideology.

The above account is not particularly revealing but is understated in some of the key historical accounts. Douglas Kellner recognised this in his 1975 review of The Dialectical Imagination when he wrote

“..on the whole the book is deceptive and disappointing. It is deceptive because it fails to explicate the radical Marxist programme implicit in the Institute’s work in the 1930’s and as a result, provides a misleading interpretation of critical theory.” 

Kellner 1975, 131

It is also in this context that the EMA should perhaps be considered.

It was not just a gathering of unconnected Marxist intellectuals who wanted to discuss abstract Marxian theory — a gathering which gave birth to the idea of the Institute for Social Research. In fact the EMA was actually held after the Institute was established.

The likely intended purpose of the EMA was to set the future intellectual direction and approach for the Institute with participants drawn from sympathetic political activists and intellectuals including its Acting Director.. a kind of ‘away day’ in the early days of a new venture. This is an explanation favoured by Buckmiller (1988, 156) and acknowledged by Wiggershaus who describe the event as the Institute’s ‘first seminar on theory’ (Wiggershaus 1994, 16). It is also the explanation offered by Stefan Muller-Doohn in his biography of Adorno (Muller-Doohn 2005, 132).

As others (including Weil) have suggested, the EMA was probably the idea of Korsch, who in the absence of a permanent Director for the Institute, would have been a key source of advice and guidance to the younger and less knowledgeable Weil. Gerlach had died in October 1922 and Weil was looking to fill the post of Director with someone who had a sympathetic ideological approach. His negotiations with Gustav Meyer had not borne any fruit and Grunberg was only to become Director in May 1924. During this this interregnum Friedrich Pollock served as Provisional or Acting Director and it would have been sensible during this uncertain early period to seek to set the intellectual direction for the Institute with guidance from key theoreticians such as Korsch and Lukacs.

Although Korsch had arranged summer schools in Thuringia in prior years, the task of inviting participants to the EMA was delegated to Richard Sorge, Gerlachs assistant in Aachen who had relocated to Frankfurt in 1922. Sorge was associated with the Institute through his connection to Gerlach and and in November 1922 he had been appointed to the Geshellshaft fur Sozialforschung — the legal entity that oversaw the finances of the Institute. By the time he sent the EMA invitations out, Sorge had been a member of the German Communist party for three years and like Weil had been an active Comintern agent since 1920.

So the EMA was connected to the newly formed Institute in a different way to that which is detailed in the conventional account. It could not have been the event at which the Institute was conceived but was likely intended to be the event at which the theoretical direction of the Institute was set. That theoretical direction was explicitly a Marxist one, influenced by practicing Communists and intellectuals with Communist sympathies — even if they were not official party members.

This presents quite a different picture of the ‘informal’ meeting ‘composed only of intellectuals’ as suggested by Martin Jay in The Dialectical Imagination.This played down the participants links to the Communist party and presented the EMA and the Institute in an apolitical light. While other accounts also stress a non party political framework (Wiggershaus 1994, 15), this view is not universally held. Hede Massing for example who attended the EMA when married to Julian Gumperz was a little less circumspect in her Grand Jury Testimony on 15th February 1949 when she reported that,

“.. there was a meeting of scientists, organized most likely by the Communist Party partly, and by universities and liberal professors..”

This is by no means ‘proof’ that the EMA or the Institute was conceived as a vehicle of the Communist Party or Comintern but as suggested in my earlier article, the position is rather more murky than conventionally presented.

The EMA Programme / Agenda

Although it can be argued that the riddle of the purpose of the EMA has been answered and the mystery of its timing solved, there is one final enigma. What did the EMA participants actually discuss?

Although the EMA has featured prominently in the conventional account of the founding of the Institute, there is a surprising lack of detail concerning its agenda and outputs.

The chief source for the conventional account of the EMA is Felix Weil — through either correspondence, interview or via his unpublished memoir. Breines, Jay, Wiggershaus, Wheatland and Abromheit all draw on Weil’s recollections to some extent. Breines also draws on the memories of Hedda Korsch. The problem with this is that as we have seen, Weil’s recollections may not be reliable. They may, at best, be clouded by age and at worst be a deliberately ‘Aesopian’ account.

None of the recollections are supported by documentary evidence and thus when the suggestion is made that much of the EMA was spent discussing Korsch’s unpublished manuscript for Marxism and Philosophy (Jay 1973, 5) we do not have any written record to substantiate this recollection. Furthermore this account is in conflict with the recollections cited by others. Paul Breines account suggests that Korsch and Lukacs met at the EMA after their books were published and that the participants discussed the theoretical issues that were raised therein (Breines 1972, 70). Rolf Wiggershaus also suggests that the starting point for discussions were seminar papers by Korsch and Lukacs on the subject of their books published that year (Wiggershaus 1994, 15).

It is likely that the participants did discuss Lukacs’ and Korsch’s interpretation of Marxist theory at the EMA but Korsch’s manuscript was either unpublished or published by the time the discussions took place. It could not have been both. This further inconsistency highlights the unreliability of the recollections that underpin the conventional account of the EMA agenda.

Fortunately we have a more reliable source.

In 1985 Eduard and Gertrud Alexander’s daughter, Susan published the text of the 9th May 1923 invitation to EMA participants — which included her parents. In the invitation, participants were advised that

“Nachdem es sich herausgestellt hat, dass wegen der Kürze der Zeit das zuerst vorgesehene Referat nicht genugend vorbereitet werden konnte, haben wir, um fur spater eine fruchtbare Diskussion uber das kriesenproblem zu ermoglichen und die Arbeitswoche fur die vorbereitende Arbeit auszunutzen, die Themata geandert” ( “After it turned out that, due to the shortness of the time, the initially planned paper could not be prepared sufficiently, we changed the topics in order to enable a fruitful discussion about the crisis problem for later and to use the working week for the preparatory work”) (Alexander 1985, 54)

So the initial intention was to discuss a conference paper — possibly on the subject of the current ‘crisis’ of capitalism. This would be in line with Buckmiller and Wiggershaus’s view that the EMA was to be the Institute’s ‘first seminar on theory’ however, in the event this theoretical paper was not prepared because the author or authors ran short of time.

Perhaps this was a paper to be delivered by Korsch but the task of dealing with the publication of his book took him longer than expected; perhaps, as Hede Massing suggested in her Testimony to the Grand Jury on 15 February 1949, it was a report from Dr Richard Sorge, Gerlachs former assistant who was now working at the Institute. The paper could also have been something that Friedrich Pollock was to deliver but this may have been difficult to achieve in view of his Acting / Provisional Director duties . In any event the ‘preparatory work’ documented in the invitation issued by Sorge encompassed discussions on

  • Dealing with the current problem of crisis (guided by E. Alexander).
  • Questions of method (guided by Lukács and Korsch)
  • Organizational questions of Marxism Study (guided by Fogarasi) ….(Alexander 1985, 54)

Eduard Alexander was well placed to guide the discussion on the current problem of ‘crisis’ as a founding member of the Spartacus League in 1917 and KPD in 1918/19. He was the Finance editor of the Rote Fahne between 1919 and 1929 and from 1922 he also headed the KPD press service in Germany under the pseudonym of Eduard Ludwig. (Alexander 1985, 53). It would have also been helpful that Alexander had penned a series of articles on the ‘End of Capitalism’ which were published in Die Internationale in 1921 (Brangsch 2019).

Korsch’s contribution to the EMA has been described in terms of a discussion of his unpublished manuscript on Marxism and Philosophy (Jay 1973, 5). The account offered by Breines (1972) provides a more complete context — the EMA provided the opportunity for Korsch and Lukacs to meet and discuss their work in depth — something they had not previously done on a face to face basis. Wiggershaus (1994, 15) places even more emphasis on the Korsch / Lukacs discussions however none of the conventional accounts describe the role these two theorists played in guiding discussions on ‘method’ — something that would be directly relevant to the future activities of a new Institute.

Bela Fogarasi was assigned the role of guiding the discussion on Organizational questions of Marxism Study. Fogarassi was a Hungarian national but was living in Germany and working for the Central Committee of the KPD at the time of the EMA (Borsanyi & Kende 1988, 199). As a fellow compatriot of Lukacs in the short lived Hungarian Soviet Republic of 1919Fogarasi no doubt gained practical experience of how to organise the study of Marxism during his tenure as Director of the Republic’s newly established Marx-Engels Workers University.

So the enigma is solved.. the EMA was used to ‘prep’..for theoretical papers that would be presented later and to assist with methodological and organizational considerations for the newly formed Institute. It was not the event at which the Institute was conceived and conventional accounts that suggest it was are just wrong.

Concluding Thoughts

Perhaps the most significant consequence of this alternative account of the EMA is to re-emphasise the fundamentally ideological nature of the Institute and the political affiliations of its founders. These have been obscured in part because of the uncritical adoption of a logically inconsistent timeline for the EMA based on Felix Weil’s account of how the idea of the Institute came into being.

As to the question of the influence of the KPD and Comintern on the Institute, it is possible that Michael Minnicino’s speculative commentary (Minnicino 1988) has more truth to it than he knew at the time. Establishing the true extent of this, however, will likely require much more research.

Photo Credit.

This article was originally published on, and is republished by permission of the author.


Abromheit, J. (2011) Max Horkheimer and the Foundations of the Frankfurt School. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.

Alexander, S. (1985) ‘Marxistische Arbeitswoche 1923.’ Beiträge zur Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung Vol. 27 (1), pp. 53–4.

Borsanyi, G. & Kende, J (1988) The History of the Working Class Movement in Hungary. Budapest. Corvina.

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